This summer, 15 delegates from Seattle will journey to the African nation of Burundi to participate in a cross-cultural program to promote cross-cultural understanding and build infrastructure.
The trip, organized by Global Citizen Journey, is their third program, and looks to educate and build lasting bonds.
"Now feels like a critical moment when we awaken to our interconnectedness," said Susan Partnow, founder of Global Citizen Journey. "The whole program is like a living laboratory."
The Burundi program will take place in the capital city Bujumbura in July 2009. The program is comprised of 15 delegates from the United States and 15 Burundi delegates. The hosting organization is JRMD — which stands for Youth in Construction in a World of Destruction. The organization works with both major ethnic groups in Burundi, the Hutu and Tutsis.
Global Citizen Journey is accepting applications until the end of October, and eight seats are still open.
Organizers say they're especially interested in people with a background in finance, business and agriculture. It is also encouraging males to apply, since most of the current delegates are female.
"It is a chance to learn first hand how to become a fully engaged global citizen," said Partnow.
Burundi is a nation approximately the size of Massachusetts located in central East Africa. While it has a long history as an ancient kingdom, it has suffered greatly over the past 150 years colonialism, poverty and most recently a genocidal civil war between Hutu and Tutsis, which claimed the lives of over a half million people.
"Burundi is basically the poor step-sister of Rwanda," said Partnow. "In many ways it is an entire nation in PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome)."
She pointed out that many organizations overlook the nation, because of the close proximity to other nations also in need such as Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Part of the mission of Global Citizen Journey is to "shed light on areas and issues that are not well understood in the U.S., enabling voices largely unknown outside their borders to be heard."
The three-week journey to Burundi is a program that allows for both cooperative building and "citizen diplomacy." Global Citizen Journey is a grassroots organization, founded and run by volunteers. Because of this, they have been welcomed when arriving in Africa.
"We're always amazed at the positive view of the United States," said Partnow. "We are all just individuals, not represented by a major corporation, and people respect that."
For the cooperative building part of the program, Global Citizen Journey will partner with a women's collective in Camara, an area outside of Bujumbura. The effort will focus on providing a farming community to support themselves and their children.
"The women said 'We don't want to go to Bujumbura and beg, we want to feed ourselves,'" said Partnow.
She hopes that once the collective is built, it can become sustainable enough that one day it can move beyond subsistence and start to provide some economic infrastructure.
Past trips by Global Citizen Journey have went to the Delta Region of Nigeria and Ghana. Each of those trips also combined citizen diplomacy with a community project. In Nigeria, the focus was on building a library, in a region where the literacy was only 40 percent. In Ghana, they worked together to build an orphanage and community learning center.
"We learn about each other by rolling up our sleeves and working together," said Partnow. "The journey is not eco-tourism, we're going for service."
The other major component of their journey is citizen diplomacy. Global Citizen Journey has confronted governments on past trips, including Nigeria. Partnow explained how they talked with representatives from the government on the situation in the Delta Region.
"We really believe in citizen diplomacy and listening to all sides," said Partnow. "We try for true democracy."
Global Citizen Journey is currently in the process of selecting delegates for the Burundi program. The cost is approximately $3,150, not including airfare. Partnow said much of the money goes toward paying for the expenses of the local delegates and for the program's infrastructure project.
She said that while some members had the means to pay for the trip outright, others collected donations, which are tax deductible. "About half of our delegates have raised the money on their own to go," said Partnow.
For more information on Global Citizen Journey Burundi 2009 visit http://www.globalcitizenjourney.org.